The forgetting curve and training reinforcement

How to effectively reinforce your technical training

Reading Time: 3 minutes


Although soft skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s workplaces, businesses still have to rely on hard skills. After all, in-depth technical knowledge is vital for many roles. 

We see organisations spend a significant amount on technical training in the hope of seeing better job performance and business results in return. Unfortunately, they are often disappointed when after extensive training, employees still don’t seem to have mastered the new skills. 

To be fair, it’s not entirely the employee’s fault but rather a negative effect of how our brains are programmed to work. 

(Learn about the four steps towards behavior change here.)

The curse of the forgetting curve

The forgetting curve is the worst enemy of newly-formed knowledge. This well-known concept was first introduced in the late 19th century by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who studied how we forget information over time. 

An astounding 70% of what we learn is lost within the first 24 hours. As much as 90% is forgotten within 30 days if we don’t make a conscious effort to retain it. 

The fast rate of forgetting new information has two important implications for your business: 

  1. Imagine 90% of your training budget being wasted every month and how much that translates to in cash terms. 
  2. When you’re teaching critical subjects like workplace safety, knowing that your employees will almost immediately forget 70% of it can be downright dangerous. 

Fortunately, there are proven strategies to counteract the forgetting curve and significantly increase your employee’s ability to retain and apply the newly acquired knowledge. These strategies are based on the science behind learning and how our brain processes information. 

Two main components for reinforcing technical training

Beating the forgetting curve through training reinforcement

  1. Distributing the content

Harvard psychologist George A. Miller first introduced the concept of content chunking in 1956. He found that our short-term memory can only hold around seven pieces of information at a time. That’s why full-day training or long-form e-learning courses can easily overwhelm employees. 

To overcome the brain’s ability to only retain small chunks of information, you must adapt the way you train your employees. The practical application of this concept is microlearning. When you deliver content to your learners in small chunks that’s spaced out over a longer period of time, they will retain more of it. One way to do that is by pushing bite-sized learning modules to your staff on your LMS or a mobile app.

  1. Continuous repetition

Regularly forcing the recall of information is the second step in beating the forgetting curve and retaining the knowledge learned in your long-term memory. Tests and quizzes are excellent ways to do this because one of two things will always happen: 

Either the learner will give the correct answer automatically reinforcing the knowledge more strongly, or the learner gets the question wrong, but the right answer is then shown to them and memorised. What’s critical is that the learner has to be challenged over and over again so that the brain understands that it is worth remembering this information.

One of the easiest ways to deliver these reinforcement moments to your staff is via a mobile app. Check out our solution here.

Where to go from here

In today’s economy, organisations can’t afford to let as much as 90% of their budget for learning and training go to waste, especially when the knowledge being trained is crucial to the success of the employees and the business as a whole. 

We understand that developing an effective training reinforcement strategy from scratch can be overwhelming. That’s why we offer a done-for-you solution that can be fully customised for all your training programmes. It’s packed inside the award-winning Mindmarker mobile app and is based on the latest research on learning and corporate training. 

How are you beating the forgetting curve? Let us know in the comments!


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Posted in Behaviour Change.

Julia Saxena

Julia Saxena is a senior writer at People Potential. Since working in HR of one of the world's largest banks, she has been fascinated by the human factor in the success of organisations. Julia loves to discuss topics which are on top of HR professionals minds with the aim to improve some workplaces along the way.